Another two strikes for Jacqui

Jacqui Smith has already won my coveted “Most hated UK female politician after Margaret Thatcher” award. But she’s still in there fighting for the crown, seeing off any opposition. On current showing she could even beat Anne Widdecombe into the ground.

Two triumphs for Jacqui today, then, in her claim to the title. And it’s a Sunday, ffs. Surely Parliament is shut? Who’d have expected she’d even be in London today. She must be staying in her “main residence?” *snigger*

The first was just annoyingly typical of the Home office’s recent encroachments into every area of civil life. The police have apparently taken to rounding up teenagers who are out late at night and taking them home.

Operation Staysafe was intended to stop children becoming victims of crime or being drawn into criminal behaviour.

This was a police operation that was supposedly for the good of the community and for the young people’s own good.

More than 1,000 young people were spoken to by Staysafe teams, and 103 were referred to other services, according to Home Office figures.

Oh, yes, and add all their personal details to the stop and search database, in passing.

You have to assume this is a general Home Office policy. The Home Secretary is happy to take credit for it, anyway.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says it is unacceptable for parents not to know what their children are up to at night.

Do I have to explain the nature of adolescence, Jacqui? Teenagers tell lies to their parents. (They are “going to the library” or staying with acceptable friend X. ) So they can hang out with their mates and get drunk and so on. It’s part of being a youth. Transgressing, defining one’s identity in opposition to the adult world, all that complex natural stuff.

Sure teenagers make mistakes. that’s generally part of the learning process. Sometimes those mistakes have really bad consequences but there are few circumstances in which getting dragged home to your Mum and Dad in a squad car would be a better option.

More seriously, Jacqui has been responding to the immigrant-scapegoating agenda set by the BNP and the Daily Mail. By parroting their nonsense.

She is trying to steal the anti-immigrant sector’s clothing and wear it as her own.

Immigrants should not be able to take a skilled job in the UK unless it has been advertised to British workers, the home secretary has said.

This can only apply to non-EU workers, of course. So she is actually referring to a tiny number of immigrants. Not enough to satisfy the anti-immigration opportunists, but accepting their definition of “immigration” as a serious problem.

From April, non-EU workers wanting to come to Britain without securing a job beforehand must have a master’s degree – rather than a bachelor’s degree, as currently – and a previous salary equivalent to at least £20,000.

What is this about? A master’s degree? A salary of £20k?

The BBC sets some context for this, but somehow – like the BNP and the Home Secretary and the Tory party – is determined to present it as an inti-immigrant issue:

The employment of foreign labour has been a high-profile issue recently after a week-long dispute at the French-owned Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, which was settled when operators Total agreed to hire more local employees.

These disputes were not anti-foreigner. (In any case, the French, Portuguese etc workers that the firms have been planning to import were all EU workers.) They were about the awarding of contracts for crucial UK infrastructure projects to foreign firms, which then imported their own employees.

Now, this seems to me to be a completely different issue. These were projects which would gather profits from British customers and the UK government for non-UK companies. They could at least have had the grace to provide some UK jobs. The workers were angry at the process of awarding contracts not at the workers who were brought in.

The far right have tried to frame these disputes in anti-immigrant terms that would make them appear to have political leadership. And, who could blame individual workers for seeing the disputes in anti-immigrant terms if the government is willing to do so.

Shame on you, Jacqui Smith. Shame on the government if you allow the Daily Mail or worse to drive your agenda.

New MHWiBPsMT award

A strong bid for the title of “Most-Hated Woman in British Politics since Margaret Thatcher” from Jacqui* Smith.

(You might think there’s limited competition. You haven’t thought about the repellent Anne Widdecombe, then. Or even, how about the likes of Harriet Harman who seem to have happily betrayed everything they ever once represented, just to be in government? And that’s without even counting some of female political commentators that the Mail can bring out.)

The House of Lords did the noble thing (well, the clue should be in the name) when its Constitution Committee came out with some forceful opposition to the database state:

“Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are “pervasive” in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers have warned. (from the BBC website)

(There are quite a few pieces in the Guardian about this.)

What did Jacqui have to say:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has rejected claims of a surveillance society and called for “common sense” guidelines on CCTV and DNA.

And where is this sudden upsurge of common sense going to come from? Who’s responsible for setting guidelines on CCTV and DNA. Blimey, it turns out to be you. So how can you be calling for other mythical common sense-exuding person or ministry to do the decent thing?

Forget the Lords, the European Court of Human Rights gave you some “common sense” guidelines on DNA…(hint, stop collecting it from innocent people, as a bare minimum)…

The Home Office “said CCTV and DNA were essential crime-fighting tools and that it was already reviewing the retention of DNA samples and consulting on the use of RIPA. The European Court of Human Rights told the Home Office in December that the retention of innocent people’s DNA was illegal.” (from the Register)

… and you haven’t even rushed to implement European law.

In fact, in the time since that ruling, rather than concentrate on dismantling the procedures that got the UK in trouble, you’ve been busy sneaking in new intrusions, like the innocuous-sounding Coroners and Justice Bil* which no2id is getting rather annoyed about.

Hidden in the new Coroners and Justice Bill is one clause (cl.152) amending the Data Protection Act. It would allow ministers to make ‘Information Sharing Orders’, that can alter any Act of Parliament and cancel all rules of confidentiality in order to use information obtained for one purpose to be used for another.

This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme. Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

Let me just refresh your memory about the safety of “anything recorded about you anywhere” In November 2008, IT Pro wrote about a year of data losses, starting with a Revenue and Customs loss of data on 20 million people and going upwards from there.

Which reminds me…. What happened to all those people hassling Jacqui for the chance to get an ID card back, also in November 2008? Have they got one yet, Jacqueline**.

* Do I have to use they Orwellian word again? It’s getting to be a cliche.
** Can I call you Jacqueline? It just seems so much more authentic. Or at least more predictably spellable. Jacqui sets my teeth on edge. Jackie would be fine, but it’s obviously not pretentious enough.

The WAT isn’t working….

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith seems to have accidentally condemned her own anti-terror strategy in an interview with scandal-sheet New-Newspaper-of-Record,the News of the World.

She claimed that the threat of terrorism is growing:

Ms Smith said: “We now face a threat level that is severe. It’s not getting any less, it’s actually growing.
“There are 2,000 individuals they are monitoring. There are 200 networks. There are 30 active plots.

With the tenuous grasp on logic with which she is increasingly becoming associated, she treats this as a justification for the plan to extend detention without trial for 42 days. She claims the current strategy isn’t working, to the point at which the danger is actually increasing? Why call for a extension of the same strategy?
The BBC reported that MPs of all parties are increasingly unwilling to sign off on this.

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, said ministers did not have enough support in parliament to carry the plans.

Way to go, Jacqui! You can’t get MPs to agree to this doomed and self-defeating nonsense, although you’ve been pushing it for a long time. So, you go straight to the critical-thinking-challenged among the masses and try to fill them with more fear, in a last-ditch attempt to get support for a policy that defies logic.

Jacqui Smith’s nice round numbers raise instant suspicion. 30 active plots? Either a plot exists or it doesn’t. If a government knows about a terrorist plot but ignores it, is it doing its job at all? And haven’t there been “30 plots” for months now? Haven’t any been attempted or abandoned in the interim?

Maybe, there’s a shortage of evidence. In which case the words “suspected plots” might have been more appropriate. And how would the blurry details of these suspected plots become magically clearer if the suspected protagonists are to be held without trial for 42 days?

Selfish human that I am, I don’t like the idea of getting suicide bombed on the Underground. I expect my government to be working to provide some reasonable level of security.

It’s just that I don’t see how this can ever be achieved by strengthening extremism by:
* Carrying out foreign policies that actively make the world more dangerous;
* Supporting communal division by encouraging faith schools;
* Fostering enmity amongst the friends and families of the falsely accused.
* and so on…… I can’t keep repeating this stuff.

Plus, of course, bringing in repressive laws to “fight terrorism” then blithely using them at will…..

Agreeing with Peter Hitchens! Oh Noes!

By Zeus, it must be time for me to kill myself. I have obviously suffered some kind of brain injury and am clinging on to reality by the thinnest of threads. Today, not only did I actually buy the Mail on Sunday (*), but I found myself agreeing with the obnoxious Peter Hitchens’ commentary. I will report to the euthanasia centre forthwith.

In a piece titled “Nothing to hide, but plenty to fear from Ms ID Card“, Annoying Hitchens makes some actually good, valid points:

She says we “need” to “prove who we are”. But mainly we need to do this because the Government has spun a spider’s web of silly rules, which snags the law-abiding and spares real troublemakers.

I agree. Hitchens continues by identifying some of the future strictures ID cards will place upon us then the bit I agree with most:

These precautions are useless against real money-launderers, paedophiles, gangsters and terrorists, who laugh at them. But they make people like Ms Smith look and feel as if they are doing something.

This is the whole problem with the idea. The implementation of ID cards is useless for its stated aims — criminals will not be inconvenienced by them in anyway. It is a shame I agree with Hitchens on something, but for now I have just put it down to his rabid hatred of the Labour government — if ID cards had been a Conservative party idea, he would be behind them all the way.

Back on the subject of ID cards, proper though — another point I neglected last time I ranted is the madness that ID cards can work if less than every member of society carries one. As long as they are optional, they are pointless for pretty much any of the ideas Ms Smith suggests they could be used for. If an immigrant is challenged and they say “I am not an immigrant” what could the government do about it? As they claim to not be a non-EU migrant, they wouldn’t be expected to carry an ID card therefore you can’t demand to see their ID card…

What passes for Logic in Ms Smiths world amazes me.

(*) In my defence it did have a good “free” music CD, which is the real reason I bought it. Odin only knows why I actually opened the “newspaper” (in the loosest sense of the word) and read anything.

ID Cards for your own good…

Well, Orwell is still spinning in his grave. Despite some apparently premature optimism, it seems that ID cards are very much on the government’s agenda. Today’s news headlines have been very much about the “ID Card Rethink [bbc as example]” and how we are all going to end up with one.

This is all despite the House of Lords “setback” and the massive online YouGov poll that showed a significant percentage of the population were against the idea. To me, in addition to the hateful ideas of forced identity documents, the fact the government is able and willing to completely ignore over a million of the electorate’s opinions speaks volumes for how modern democracy works…

In a token gesture to people’s opinions, the government is planning to bring ID card by stealth in a phased manner. I assume the thinking is target the least popular / most vulnerable parts of society then, in a few years everyone will have come round to the idea and we will all carry one. Distasteful is an understatement.

In her speech announcing the new Identity Card plans, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith made the following statements:

I start from the premise that the National Identity Scheme is a public good.

Starting from a false premise is never going to lead to anything of value… This is largely, Smith saying the assumption was always we were going to have Identity Cards, like it or not.

As citizens, it will offer us a new, secure and convenient way to protect and prove our identity.

What is new about it? How is it more secure than, say, a passport or driving licence? Equally, how the **** does the existence of an ID card protect your identity?

And it will provide us with the reassurance we need that others who occupy positions of trust in our society are who they say they are as well.

This is odd, and the radio news made a big deal about this. What people who occupy positions of trust don’t already carry a form of ID? Lots of news sources go on about how Airport staff will be early ones to get them – oddly, you already need to have an ID card to get airside at an airport. What will have actually changed? Are the current procedures flawed?

Now, at this point I was going to do a line by line rebuttal of her claims but as they are all insane it will take much too long. Nearly every sentence she utters in her speech contains falsehoods and spin to trick people into thinking ID Cards will solve the worlds problems. They wont.

In an effort to be brief, I will try to address her main points.

Surveillance is everywhereFirstly, ID cards are supposed to be brought in to prevent crime and terrorism. Wow. If having to carry an ID card would prevent someone from being a terrorist, why are there still terrorists in the world? Same with crime. Neither activity will be deterred simply by the existence of a voluntary ID scheme. The best that could possibly be hoped for would be for a compulsory ID card, with fingerprint data, that may enable the police to catch people after a crime(*). In years gone by crazy ideas were often supported with a “wont anyone think of the children” (as parodied by the Simpsons), now we have Prevent Terrorism as the buzzword. If the government want to pass laws people will hate it is always linked to prevention of terrorism. Didn’t anyone watch “In the Name of the Father?”

Secondly they are supposed to prevent Identity Fraud. How this happens is never, ever, mentioned and, frankly, defies even the most cursory examination. Again reading through Ms Smith’s speech is an exercise in logical fallacies, there are more appeals to fear than I care to count. The phrases basically go along the lines of criminals steal identities so get an ID card. This sounds good and there is a half-hearted example of one person who defrauded the state out of £2.5m over five years. Compare this to Northern Rock who have taken over £100billion from the state in as many months. Who is the worse criminal? On a more personal level, ID theft is a terrible thing and I genuinely feel for anyone it happens to. Would the national ID card prevent it? Ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer is no, and in the other one is it a maybe.

CCTV Cameras Cover the CountryFor example, if some one hacks your Ebay account and runs up charges would an ID card have protected you? Same with anything online (where most ID theft apparently takes place) and in the offline world it only works when it interacts with the government. Someone can steal your ID and apply for credit cards, loans etc., and unless the issuing authority has access to the central database there is no way to find out.

This leads to the other problem. The database itself becomes a single point of failure. All a person needs to do is attack that to gain a legitimate, but false, identity. As recent months (and years) have shown, the Government is a largely inept organisation when it comes to protecting the data it holds. The news has covered dozens of “accidents” where huge amounts of personal data have been lost into the public domain. Do you feel safe thinking that a group with this track record will hold the gold standard of data about your identity?

Ms Smith has considered this and some reassurance is given:

Private firms will be encouraged to set-up “biometric enrolment centres” where passport and ID card applicants will be fingerprinted. [BBC news]

WTF! To make matters worse, this personal and private data will be collected by non-accountable organisations who have, by definition, their primary goal of making profit. By Toutatis this is madness. Here we will have the situation where staff on a minimum wage will be responsible for inputting your ID details and making sure no one else can get access to them. People who can be bribed with the price of a pint down the pub. Terrifying.

When Ms Smith talks about how they will protect the data the ID system will store, she manages to confuse me as to how it will work:

 The way in which we are designing the National Identity Register, with separate databases holding personal biographic details physically and technologically separately from biometric fingerprints and photographs, will greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures of information being used to damaging effect. …(followed by)…  I should make it clear that none of the databases will be online, so it won’t be possible to hack into them. [BBC transcript]

Now call me an old fashioned security professional, but there is a bit here that makes sense. By preventing people from getting access to the data you really do reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosure. However, and this shows more madness, if huge segments of society can’t access the data it is useless. The idea as I see it is that you go into the bank to open an account and show them your ID card. They scan it and compare it to the record of you. If it matches you get account. Seems easy, except now it looks like the bank wont have access and even if they did there is an air gap between the two technologies.

How is it supposed to work?

Lastly (phew, I hear you cry), the introduction by stealth. This shows the government KNOW this is an unpopular idea and it would never get off the ground if they tried to roll it out now. Instead they are going to play on the “white working class fear” of the Evil Immigrants by making them carry ID cards (why not force them to carry a sign round…(**)). What effect this will have is beyond me because if I was an immigrant and challenged by “authority” I would simply say I wasn’t an immigrant. Prove me wrong. Next come the “UK citizens and EU nationals who work in ‘sensitive’ airport jobs” who already carry ID cards and aren’t likely to complain, but again the question is “why?” Finally in 2011 it will be an opt-out option on passport renewals. Passports already have biometric data and are acceptable as proof of ID the world over. Why do we need another form of ID?

That is it in a nutshell, though. Why on Earth do we need another form of ID?

(*) remembering to account for the error bars of partial fingerprint matches when you have a database of 60+ million entries, and hoping the criminals are too stupid to wear gloves…

(**) Hmm. This seems familiar. I wonder why…

Terrorism and Fear vs Rights

Sadly, the annoyingly named, pot smoking, Jacqui Smith has been sounding off about the need to detain innocent people for longer periods of time.

As always, the BBC remains an excellent source of the worrying statements made by politicians, reporting:

“The time is now right” to reconsider extending detention without charge beyond the current 28 days limit, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.

The article continues to discuss how she feels that the complexity of modern terrorist plots means the police need longer than 28 days to detain and question a suspect before they charge him or her. Worryingly, this seems to be garnering general public support and it has all the hall marks of the “reasonable” sounding claims I detest with a passion.

On the face of it, detaining terrorists for indefinite periods of time seems like a good idea – it is one of those things which make it difficult for people to argue against, I mean who wants to support terrorists? The same argument is used over a variety of crimes and it is almost always false.

Basically, the problem is that these are innocent people. The bedrock of western laws is that a person’s liberty can only be taken away from them under certain situations. Most of the time, the only way for this to happen is after a court of law finds the person guilty of certain offences. The primary exception to this is people who are charged with a grave offence and may prove to be a flight risk or a continued threat to the public, at which point they may be refused bail.

The current terror legislation (in that it is a law based on terror, rather than the principles of law or good governance) allows some one to be detained by the police for 28 days without any form of charge, nor is a formal charge required when the 28 day period runs out. It is unique in this respect, I can not for one second imagine someone being detained for 28 days while they were being investigated for vandalism…

In a nutshell, this means that someone without being charged of any crime can have their liberty taken away from them for a month. I am sure the police forces of the UK are (currently) professional enough to have some standard of evidence required before they enact this detention, but the fact remains this is something wide open to abuse. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see how this can be misused – especially as there is no censure, nor public oversight, over the police actions. They are not punished if they detain some one wrongly (accidentally or deliberately) and the innocent person wrongly imprisoned receives no restitution for their suffering.

Is this the way people envisage a western democracy treating its citizens?

The terrorists, who want to destroy what they see as a decadent society, seem to be winning and we are slowly becoming a police state in the manner of the Middle Eastern dictatorships we used to condemn.

As always, the irrational fear of terrorists seems to cloud people’s reasoning when it comes to detaining them – the old refrain about the public’s “right to life” being more important than the suspect’s “right to liberty” is the most common. It is also complete nonsense and draws an ad absurdum over itself like a cloak. The fear of a terrorist killing lots of people is used as the argument behind excessive pre-charge detention, however Harold Shipman killed more people than any terrorist in the UK and we do not detain Doctors for 28 days without charge on the off-chance they may be mass murderers.

Sadly, the main victims of this legislation are minority groups so the will of the masses overwhelms any complaints they may make. Oddly (although not odd for anyone who has thought about this rationally), the main effect of this legislation will be to further alienate and isolate a vulnerable group of people. The extremist rabble-rousers must be overjoyed at the thought of disgruntled Islamic youths who feel like the state is oppressing them unjustly.

As well as the potential deaths a terrorist could cause, another “reason” often cited for excessive detention is “the complexity” of a terrorist investigation. This is reasonable and actually has my full support, although I think that if the Home Secretary agrees that complex investigations should allow the police to detain suspects for long periods before charge, this should be applied across the board.

Complex criminal investigations are widespread in the modern society we live in. With the exception of terrorism the suspect remain free until a charge can be made though – some recent examples are footballers suspected of fraud, the Members of Parliament suspected in the “Cash for Honours” fiasco, companies suspected of financial crimes and the like. In not one of these cases was a suspect detained (without charge) for more than 24 hours – even though the investigations lasted months or years. Obviously the police are more than able to investigate people who are not sitting in the cells – even very rich people (all of the above) who are a real flight risk.

Ah, I hear the right wing cry out that these are “fraud” cases where no one will die as a result. Ok, that seems reasonable – although if someone loses their lives savings thanks to financial fraud and is left penniless at the age of 60, I suspect they will die a lot sooner than if they had their money. What about complex cases involving health and safety legislation or corporate manslaughter? What about the cases of human traffickers (or any organised crime)? There is a multitude of incredibly complex cases, in which the investigations last years, where the police are not allowed to detain a suspect without charge for 28 days (or more).

What makes a terrorism suspect any different from a CEO who’s corporate negligence has allowed 50 people to die?

As a parting shot, I will return to the BBC’s article and Miss Smith’s comments:

In recent operations … six people were held for 27-28 days and three of those were charged.

A fifty percent success rate does not fill me with confidence.

[tags]Terror, Terrorism, Law, Legislation, Jacqui Smith, UK, Civil Rights, News, Fear, Civil Liberties, Society, Culture, Police, Arrests, Islam, Minorities, Crime, Home Secretary, BBC, Corporate Crime, Logical Fallacy, Ad Absurdum, Reductio Ad Absurdum, Logical Fallacies[/tags]

Terror Returns to London

Once more, the actions of the insane, cruel, evil and disturbed make headline news in the UK. Even though I am almost as far from London as you can get in the UK, the news of the Car Bomb outside a London nightclub has been pretty big stuff. Quite understandable as well really, as this is the “purpose” of terrorist attacks – create terror.

Putting a bomb made up off “60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails” outside a busy London nightclub on a Thursday night (often one of the busier nights in the city), strikes me as a pretty effective way to make people frightened. That the bomb did not detonate is certainly amazing (invoke god of choice if you wish, I will stick to the wonders of the bombers ineptitude), and it seems reasonable to assume the police comments about possible casualties are accurate.

It is certainly remarkable that this device was discovered (prior to it announcing itself in a big way) and it is a tribute to the bomb disposal teams who had to render it safe, while retaining forensic evidence. A big well done all round there. Continue reading